Mothers and Mental Health

by Denis Storey
May 10, 2024 at 10:25 AM UTC

Mother’s Day offers a chance to explore the mental health challenges that expectant and new mothers face

Clinical relevance: Mother’s Day offers a chance to explore the mental health challenges that expectant and new mothers face.

  • Causes include hormonal shifts, role adjustments, and social stressors.
  • The impact extends far past families since untreated mental health issues have economic consequences, too.
  • It’s critical to address these challenges to support mothers and their families effectively.

As Mother’s Day celebrates 110 years, it’s worth taking a minute to look past the commercial (the third most popular day for flower and plant sales), the culinary (the busiest restaurant day), and the guilty (more phone calls than any other day of the year).

Instead, it’s worth taking a look at the mental health pitfalls that typically lie in wait for expectant mothers.

It’s Complicated

One out of five mothers wrestle with mental health issues. And maternal mental health issues remain the leading complication during pregnancy and childbirth. Worse still, suicide and overdoses persist as the leading cause of death among new mothers (during the first year after birth).

But what’s behind all these issues? There are three primary sources:

  1. Biological: The sudden – and significant – hormone shifts during and right after pregnancy can wreak havoc on the mother’s moods.
  2. Psychological: Some mothers have a hard time adapting to the role changes, relationship adjustments, and added responsibilities that accompany parenthood.
  3. Social: Finally, becoming a parent typically translates into changes at work and at home, and a hit to one’s finances that can all add up to mounting stress.

Treatment is tricky

Despite the prevalence of mental health issues among mothers – and their expectant counterparts – research suggests that 75 percent of them lack treatment. The ripple effect of this treatment gap surges past mothers and mothers-to-be, affecting babies, fathers, and extended families.

Put in economic terms, experts estimate that the cost of not treating these mothers (and their infants) is at least $32,000 annually per pair. That adds up to $14 billion every year.

A range of conditions

  • Baby Blues – a result of rapidly shifting hormone levels that presents as increased emotional sensitivity and feeling of being overwhelmed – affects up to 85 percent of childbearing women.
  • Depression – which can extend to a lack of interest in the new baby and any sense of self care – hits 14 percent of childbearing women.
  • Anxiety disorders – which can include thoughts of harming oneself or the baby – afflict 6 percent to 8 percent of childbearing women.
  • PTSD – since childbirth can be a traumatic event, the arrival of the new baby can shake the most resilient women to their core. As a result, 9 percent of new mothers struggle with PTSD.
  • OCD – Although rare, about 4 percent of childbearing women endure OCD.
  • Bipolar disorder – While this threatens only 3 percent of women, those with bipolar disorder can be particularly vulnerable to recurrence during pregnancy. They also bear an increased risk for postpartum depression and psychosis.
  • Substance use disorder – Finally, some new mothers also struggle with substance abuse after childbirth, typically in conjunction with another mental health issue.

All stats courtesy of the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance.

Further Reading

Mental Health Issues Threaten Maternal Mortality Numbers

5 Minute Pearls: Psychiatric Disorders During Pregnancy and the Postpartum

Reproductive Psychiatry Gives Birth to a New Era in Women’s Mental Health

Clinical and Practical Psychopharmacology

Antipsychotic Medication Continuation vs Taper and Discontinuation in Patients With Schizophrenia and Other Nonaffective Psychotic Disorders

Dr Andrade discusses two studies that examined the outcomes of gradual, individualized antipsychotic dose reduction and discontinuation in patients with psychosis.

Chittaranjan Andrade

Letter to the Editor

Geriatric Depression: What Clinicians Need to Know

The authors discuss what clinicians should be aware of when caring for elderly patients with depression.

Ahmed Naguy and others